What is WiMax and how is it different from WiFi?
This question was answered on June 13, 2005. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.
WiMax is a new long-range wireless standard (IEEE 802.16) and is an acronym that stands for “Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access” It is also referred to as a point-to-multi-point broadband wireless access.
WiFi (Wireless Fidelity – IEEE 802.11) is the name often used for the short-range wireless technology that is most commonly used in homes and businesses to extend access to an Internet connection or network.
The range on WiFi systems is generally up to 300 feet (much shorter distances are achieved when structural obstructions such as walls and electronics that use the same frequencies exist) and is fairly inexpensive to deploy.
WiMax on the other hand is designed to connect users up to 30 miles away and is not something that the average home or small business will be installing as an access point themselves.
The cost to setup a WiMax “transmitter” is quite high and equipment that is designed to work as a “receiver” for the signal is scarce at this point in time (not to mention, much more expensive than WiFi at the moment).
Municipalities and large companies are currently the “early adopters” of this technology as a large number of users is required to justify the current transmitter expense.
The initial opportunity to use WiMax for us average users is likely to come in the form of a new company offering high-speed Internet access to compete with the DSL and cable Internet service providers.
The WiMax wireless technology is designed to overcome infrastructure problems in both metropolitan and rural areas because it eliminates the need to install millions of dollars of fiber, cable and wires (often referred to as the “last mile” problem) It could really fill the void for those that have lived in areas that have had no high-speed options.
And, unlike previous attempts to deploy wide area wireless, it’s very scaleable and can support lots of simultaneous users.
Once setup, subscribers within range can connect at very high speeds to the Internet Think of it as a high-speed Internet account that goes with you, much like a cell phone You could use your laptop in your car or at your friend’s house or on a sales call and stay connected at high-speeds as long as you were within the coverage area.
One of the industry viewpoints for WiMax is for it to compliment WiFi In the near future, we will likely start to see products that can connect to both WiMax and WiFi networks and at some point be intelligent enough to decide automatically for the user when to switch based on where they were.
Several companies are working on creating “mesh” systems that incorporate both WiMax and WiFi connections to the same Internet service on a national basis For the business traveler, this would be a true improvement over trying to find connections from various points in the country and having to pay high rates for short-term use.
At this point in time, there isn’t much for you to consider or do since the technology is in its infancy As it develops and as products and service providers come to market, you will likely see the advertising for WiMax services and hopefully it will eventually drive the monthly cost of high-speed Internet connections down even further!
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Posted by Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on June 13, 2005
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